We flew to Washington and stayed at a Holiday Inn where PC did some training. Susan and I arrived on July 5 and other PCTs arrived until noon on the 6th. We learned that we would be SA24, the 24th group to go to South Africa. There were 60 invited, three dropped out before coming to Washington.
Our training was largely a summary of PC policies and a brief overview of the training we would receive in SA. We did several “ice breaker” activities that introduced us to the other PCTs. I thought I would be the oldest person there and I may be, but one man and one woman, not a couple, might be older. Susan and I make one of three couples in our SA24 group. Beside my rival for “most experienced male”, there are two women approximately our age, a man about 50, several in their 30’s and the remaining PCTs are in their 20’s with the majority recent college graduates. Quite a few of them only graduated this spring.
On Thursday we flew to Atlanta and caught a Delta flight to O.R. Tambo International Airport between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It was a long flight, 15 ½ hours, and everyone was excited with the anticipation of being in SA. The PCT’s ranged from those who had never been out of the USA before to some very well-traveled young people. We arrived at Tambo, went easily through customs, and were met at the gate by the Country Director and a number of her staff. We loaded our luggage into the luggage bays on the bus and into a pickup and attached trailer as there was more luggage than the bus could carry. PC was well prepared for this.
We took about a three hour ride to a small college outside of Rustenburg. The college was not in session and thus there were dorm rooms available. They put all the married couples together in one building in single rooms. All buildings had bathrooms with showers down the hall. We arrived at Rustenburg about 10:00 pm. We were greeted by the “Language and Culture Facilitators”, LCFs, who sang to us as we disembarked. It was African style music with a lead singer who started and sang each verse as the others picked up the same. Several of the singers had professional quality voices and we were to be treated to many songs through the training. It was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. We then had welcoming, introductions, and these were followed by a late supper. We carried our luggage to our rooms and slept until 6:00 am. We were warned not to take very long showers as there were only about 35 gallon hot water heaters. The showers were to be one of our last luxuries.
Breakfast the next day was at 7:00 followed by classes and immunizations. Immunizations continued from time to time for the next month and a half. Some days we received two shots. If something can be caught in SA and if there is an immunization, we have had it. I think microbes now flee as we walk down the street.
Classes were about Peace Corps Policy and Languages. There are 11 official languages in SA. SA24 will be placed in areas that speak Setswana, Sepedi, Xitsonga, Tshivenda and Afrikaans. We all learned greetings in each of these languages. I should say we all studied those greetings. Later we learned which language each of us would concentrate on and most of us seem to have forgotten the greetings in the other languages. We did learn the pronunciation of the greetings and I feel that I could get it back quickly should I need it.
A word about greetings and culture: In the U.S., time is important. In SA, relationships are important. In the rural areas we will be in, it is important to greet each person one encounters. This is to be done even if it makes you late for work or a meeting. Almost all of us have had one or more persons say, “Why did you not speak to me?” It’s about relationships here. Why this is so becomes understandable when one realizes how dependent one can be on neighbors and friends in a rural community. If your water supply fails, you get water from your neighbor. The same goes for food, medicine, travel, and help in any emergency.
We stayed at the college for four days and then moved to another town where we were quartered in local residents’ homes. Classes then were at a mixture of local schools, in each other’s houses, or, for general sessions, at a closed college. We take mini buses or Kumbis when the distance is more than a mile or two. A taxi is a 14 passenger van [I was in one where there were 19 of us in the 14 passenger Kumbi. I was crowded but happy for the ride.] These vans travel the paved roads in appropriate hours and pick up all along their routes. A local ride is 6 Rand, R6.00. A half hour ride to the mall, about 15 miles is R11.00 each way. The rand has varied against the dollar since we have been here from R6.78 to R7.24 to a dollar.